Going down to Tranquebar

TRANQUEBAR REVISITED after five or six years once again revealed that despite all our lip service to tourism, we spurn opportunities to develop what could really attract the foreign visitor, in this instance, the Scandinavians whose 17th-19th Century colony this was in the days when Norway was part of Denmark and Sweden had separated only a century earlier. Here, the Dansborg Fort remains pretty much as it was from the 17th Century and so do the homes and churches of King Street and Queen Street, together reflecting a colonial settlement virtually unchanged in fa�ade and all of it set alongside a beach that the Nordics would love - if made user-friendly - and not far from the attractions of rural and cultural India. Here's a tourist destination crying to be developed, but what have we done to keep it alive?

The Archaeological Survey of India restored its only monument, the Land Gate, earlier this year - but has paid little attention to it or its surroundings since. The south wing of Dansborg Castle was restored reasonably well, though why a sandstone colour was used, I do not know. A greater concern is that precautions were not taken against rising damp. The central portion with its museum looking like a potti kadai, the north wing, the cellars, the walls - its gates today are of bamboo laced together - all await restoration. Kannan, Tamil Nadu Commissioner of Archaeology, had taken a great deal of interest in this restoration over the last few years - but he has now been transferred. Now someone else has to start all over again.

Still more worrying is that the Governor's bungalow nearby is in a terrible state through sheer neglect and the neighbouring ADC's bungalow, used later by the British Collector or his representative, is only a little better. Yet, both can be restored if they are handed over to those who want to run them as heritage hotels. In fact, the Collector's bungalow' which was taken over by a major hotel group is mired in a legal tangle over transfer of ownership dating to the last days of Denmark in India, a problem that could easily be resolved if the successful development of Tranquebar is kept in mind and not sarkari prestige.

And then there's the Tourism Corporation's new bungalow with 12 rooms built four years ago and still awaiting opening! When the traditional styles of King Street could have been followed for its construction, I can't for the life of me see why such a terrible architectural exercise was undertaken, but sadder still has been keeping it unused all these years and leaving the not-so-infrequent visitors to Tranquebar with the impression that there were no facilities for them anywhere in the town. Apparently, the `hotel' is now being offered to the private sector to run and the tenders await opening, as I write. I hope the successful tenderer will be allowed to reconstruct the fa�ade to blend with the ambience of Tranquebar that the Tourism Department's hoarding at the entrance to the town exhorts you to protect. I also hope it keeps in mind that the bulk of those likely to visit Tranquebar will seek alien comforts.

Meanwhile, anyone wanting to take Tranquebar as it is - and it certainly is worth taking - need not be disheartened. The Madras-Tranquebar road via Pondicherry, Cuddalore, Chidambaram and Sirkazhi is certainly in good shape, except for the Chidambaram-Sirkazhi stretch, which could easily be improved to match the rest. And Thirukadaiyur - whose daily wedding anniversaries could themselves attract visitor interest - is just 15 minutes away with three modest hotels that are certainly of acceptable standards for even the fussy. Indeed, Tranquebar, even in its present state, could be promoted if it is linked with Thirukadaiyur for facilities till on-the-spot development takes place, including cleaning up the beach.

The Danish Government a year or so ago expressed its interest in teaming with the Tamil Nadu Government to develop Tranquebar. That offer is still to be accepted. Meanwhile, a Danish NGO, that has helped with the restoration that's taken place, continues to seek help to keep its effort going.

Two of the most helpful and friendly Government officials I've met in a long time in Tamil Nadu were the Tourist Officer and the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Officer here, and the latter handed me a Xerox leaflet from that Danish organisation intent on restoring Tranquebar. Anyone wanting to help with the work, it states, could send their contribution to Foreningen Trankebar, Kasserer Karin Knudsen, Hovegaden 26, 5932 Humble, Denmark.


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